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Animal Behaviour and Welfare 

This research is led by The Animal Behaviour Centre and research programmes focus on fundamental and applied aspects of domestic, farm and zoo animal behaviour. This group also looks at well-being and the impact of animals on human health.


The Animal Behaviour and Welfare group is led by Dr Deborah Wells and Prof Peter Hepper, who have worked together for over 2 decades on studies aimed at improving the psychological well-being of animals.  The efficacy of a host of innovative enrichments for captive animals has been empirically examined, ranging from toys, social contact and feeding devices to more adventurous forms of sensory stimulation.  This work has culminated in widely downloaded peer-reviewed papers and has had impact beyond academia, resulting in the widespread use of enrichment tools in kennels, zoos and laboratory settings, the production of ‘designer’ music CDs for companion animals (e.g. Through a Dog’s Ear, by Joshua Leeds, see:, and the development of guidelines for the housing of captive dogs in countries including America and Australia.

Much of the group’s research on environmental enrichment takes place off-site and involves fruitful collaborations with organisations including rescue kennels and zoos.  Pet-owner related research is frequently carried out in the Animal Behaviour Centre (ABC), a purpose-designed research facility housed within the School of Psychology.  As well as reception and preparation areas, the ABC comprises two large study rooms, both equipped with inbuilt video-cameras and audio recording facilities.  The Centre has access to large tarmacked and grass areas for external testing.

The Animal Behaviour and Welfare team have secured research grants from a wide variety of sources over the years, including animal welfare charities (e.g. RSPCA, Dogs Trust), academic organisations (e.g. Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour, Universities Federation for Animal Welfare), governmental bodies (e.g. Belfast City Council) and industries (e.g. Nestec Ltd, Microsoft).  Most recently, the group secured funding from the BBSRC to examine whether lateralised behaviour harbours any merit as a predictor of welfare risk in the domestic dog.  This project, recently finished, has resulted in a variety of peer-reviewed publications:


Wells, D.L., Hepper, P.G., Milligan, A.D.S. & Barnard, S.  (2018).  Stability of motor bias in the domestic dog, Canis familiaris.  Behavioural Processes 149, 1-7.

McDowell, L.J., Wells, D.L., Hepper, P.G.  (2018).  Lateralisation of spontaneous behaviours in the domestic cat, Felis silvestris.  Animal Behaviour 135, 37-43.

Wells, D.L., Hepper, P.G., Milligan, A.D.S. & Barnard, S.  (2017).  Cognitive bias and paw preference in the domestic dog, Canis familiarisJournal of Comparative Psychology 131, 317-325.

Barnard S., Wells, D.L., Hepper P.G., Milligan A.D.S.  (2017).  Association between lateral bias and personality traits in the domestic dog.  Journal of Comparative Psychology 131, 246-256.

McDowell, L.J., Wells, D.L., Hepper, P.G. & Dempster, M.  (2016).  Lateral bias and temperament in the domestic cat, Felis silvestris.  Journal of Comparative Psychology 130, 313-320.

Wells, D.L., Hepper, P.G., Milligan, A.D.S. & Barnard, S.  (2016).  Comparing lateral bias in dogs and humans using the KongTM ball test.  Applied Animal Behaviour Science 176, 70-76.


Peter Hepper

My research interests are concentrated around the following general themes: Behavioural development and health including the prenatal development of human fetal behaviour; Animal behaviour including kin recognition; Psychosocial outcome of facial disfigurement including the effect of cleft lip and palate on health, psychological and social well-being

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Deborah Wells

My research concentrates on animal behaviour and welfare, with a particular focus on the domestic dog. Much of my work has been concerned with exploring the welfare of animals housed in captivity (e.g. zoos, rescue kennels) and finding ways of improving psychological well-being through the implementation of novel and scientifically tested enrichment strategies. Other research areas include pets and human health, behaviour problems in companion animals and, more recently, laterality in animals.

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Catherine Reeve

My general research interests are animal cognition, animal psychophysics, and applied animal behaviour. My research focuses on domestic dog olfaction and how best to train and evaluate sniffer dogs for a variety of applications. In particular, I am interested in the use of sniffer dogs for the detection of physiological changes in humans and how sniffer dogs can improve their owner’s quality of life. I am also interested in how the study of animal cognition can inform the care of, and improve the welfare of captive animals.

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Resized photo of Grace Carroll


Grace Carroll

To date, Grace’s research has focused on farm animals and how we can improve their welfare. Grace has previously examined the effect of housing type on the welfare of sows and piglets. In addition, Grace has assessed the feasibility of collecting welfare-related information in an abattoir environment. Grace also has an interest in feline welfare, evolutionary psychology, and the effect of ‘infant features’ in companion animals on human behaviour.

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Research Centres


Leading exciting and novel research programmes on both fundamental and applied aspects of domestic and zoo animal welfare.

The Animal Behaviour Centre is involved in a diverse range of innovative research programmes involving dogs, cats, primates and other species. Our research has focused on laterality and animal welfare, environmental enrichment, pets and human health and animal olfaction.

Animal Behaviour Centre


Researching the behaviour of the fetus

Research undertaken by the Centre will lead to a greater understanding of the behaviour of the fetus which can be used to better and improve the care and well-being of the individual.

Fetal Behaviour Research Centre


Thousands of animals are housed in captive conditions worldwide, often to the detriment of their mental well-being. Scientists at Queen’s Animal Behaviour Centre have spent the last 20 years developing new ways of improving the psychological welfare of animals housed in captivity. Their research has shown that classical music and scents such as lavender in dog shelters calms the animals, and that shielding zoo-housed gorillas from visitors with camouflage netting over the viewing windows, prevents great apes from becoming agitated. The impact of this research extends to guidelines and regulations set by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Australian Government's National Health and Medical Research Council.
Commercial impact includes CDs of music composed specifically for dogs, now widely available to buy on the open market, and being utilised in 1700+ rescue shelters and by over 150,000 pet owners around the globe.

Research Network

  • Birte L. Nielsen
  • Tadeusz Jezierski
  • J. Elizabeth Bolhuis
  • Luisa Amo
  • Frank Rosell
  • Marije Oostindjer
  • Janne W. Christensen
  • Dorothy McKeegan
  • Glenn Levine
  • Karen Allen
  • Lynne Braun
  • Hayley Christian
  • Erika Friedmann
  • Katherine Taubert
  • Sue Thomas
  • Richard Lange

Research students